Monday, April 09, 2007

Pelosi in Syria

To read the reports in the U.S. media and to hear the squawking heads, one would understandably be surprised to find out that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi traveled with a delegation to Syria. Indeed, she traveled with a bipartisan delegation. From the JTA Forum:
The clarification baffled the delegation, which included Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), the Jewish chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee; Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), its Government Reform Committee chairman and also Jewish; Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.), an Arab American who is chairman of the House Resources Committee; Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), a freshman who is the first Muslim-American member of Congress; Rep. David Hobson (R-Ohio), a senior Republican; and Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), chairwoman of the House Rules Committee.
The "clarification" referenced above was a statement released by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. After Pelosi met with Syrian President Bashar Assad she released a statement saying that Olmert made a peace offering to Syria. Of course, the peace offering conveyed by Pelosi contained the usual caveats from Israel about Syria ceasing it's support for terrorism in the region. That's basically a given in any of the messages. Shortly after Pelosi's statement, however, Olmert saw fit to appear on television and in print with a "clarification" of Pelosi's statement. The "clarification" merely restated the caveats about Syria ceasing it's sponsorship of terrorism. The Pelosi delegation wondered why Olmert did this. More the the JTA Forum that reveals the answer:
Olmert's message seemed calibrated to cast Pelosi as a naive novice.

..."It's obvious the White House is desperate to find some phony criticism of the speaker's trip, even though it was a bipartisan trip," said Lantos, a Holocaust survivor who is considered the Democrat closest to the pro-Israel lobby. "I have nothing but contempt and disdain for the attempt to undermine this trip."

The White House had no comment on the allegations by Lantos that it pressured Olmert to offer a clarification.

Such backdoor statecraft between the White House and Olmert would not be unprecedented.

Last year, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice talked Olmert into a 48-hour cease-fire during the war with Hezbollah to allow humanitarian relief, but within hours Israeli planes were bombing again, to Rice's surprise and anger. Olmert had received a call, apparently from Cheney's office, telling him to ignore Rice.
Ah, so the White House wouldn't comment on the allegations by Lantos, but Dick Cheney sure did. Speaking on Rush Limbaugh's radio show Cheney proved he can shoot from the mouth almost as well as he shoots from a gun. Again, from JTA Forum:
In his interview with Limbaugh, Cheney gloated over Olmert's role.

"Prime Minister Olmert immediately made it clear that she was not authorized to make any such offer to Bashar Assad," he said. "Fortunately, I think the various parties involved recognize she doesn't speak for the United States in those circumstances, she doesn't represent the administration. The president is the one who conducts foreign policy, not the speaker of the House."
Why is the White House so concerned about Pelosi's trip? After all, she's really not doing anything that previous government officials, in and out of the White House, has done. The JTA Forum offers this insight:
In fact, White House frustration might have to do with a foreign policy spinning out of its control.

After the White House berated Pelosi for even daring to visit Assad, it was revealed that congressional Republican delegations were in Damascus at about the same time just as eager to relay the same message as the Pelosi team: Talking is better than not talking.

"Dialogue is not a sign of weakness," Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.) told his hometown newspaper, the Lancaster Intelligencer Journal, after he returned home. "It's a sign of strength."
Foreign policy is "spinning out of control" if members of the President's own party has decided that his policy isn't working. But rather than bash his own, the President chose to take on the Speaker. He's not exactly laying the ground work for running the government as a partnership, is he? After all, the President doesn't write laws or pass spending bills, he only signs them. If he ticks off members of his own party or if they decide his policies are failing so badly that they won't back them, then this President could face a few overturns of his veto powers. Lame duck indeed. Unfortunately, we have to live with this one for a few more months.

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